Healthcare workers who don't get flu shots will now be required to wear face masks on the job. Low vaccination rates among care givers prompted state regulators Thursday to pass the amendment to public health codes.
The new rule applies to everyone from nurses in emergency rooms to home health aides, even if they are volunteers.
The state rule has the support of hospitals and the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East. But groups representing home healthcare workers opposed them, arguing that it is difficult for workers to wear the masks for hours at a time while working in their clients' homes.
State officials have long been concerned with low vaccination rates. During the 2011-2012 flu season, just 48% of healthcare workers in hospitals and 45% in nursing homes were vaccinated.
Speaking at a state health panel in December, State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah called the reluctance of many workers to get vaccinated "deplorable."
"These are people taking care of patients," he said. "It's incumbent on all of us to provide patient-centered care by getting shots, documenting that they got them … and if there is a reason why not, then they should wear a mask during patient care for the duration of the season."
The state Department of Health said that it will cost less than $1 per shift for an unvaccinated worker to wear fitted disposable paper masks.
Among 13 groups that provided public comments on the amendment to the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York, 10 opposed it. Objectors said there lacked data showing the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of the flu. Without providing data, the state said masks are recommended for "helping contain respiratory secretions."